19 February 2018, Monday, 16:57
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Human Rights Activists Assess Blocking Of Charter’97 As Further Attack On Freedom Of Speech In Belarus

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The claims of the Ministry of Information against the website Charter97.org are groundless and outrageous.

The Ministry of Information revealed the reasons for blocking the website Charter97.org.

The informational resource was accused of having spread the information which could potentially damage the national interests of the Republic of Belarus, of violation of the Law “On Mass Events”, and of distributing the materials that have been considered extremist. The official reason for blocking the website was Article 38 of the Law “On the Media”, which was repeatedly criticized by human rights defenders as discriminative and non-democratic.

The Human Rights Center “Viasna” considers the claims of the Ministry of Information against the website Charter’97 groundles sand outrageous.

The Human Rights Center "Viasna" is concerned over the recent developments in the Belarusian media space. Human rights activists believe that the blocking of Charter-97 is excessive restriction on the right to freedom of expression. This is a flagrant violation of the country’s international obligations in the field of freedom of speech, and of human rights in general, committed by the Belarusian authorities.

Chairman of the HRC “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski notes that the Charter’97 always stood out for its high democratic and patriotic position. At the same time, the Ministry of Information does not restrict in any way the anti-Belarusian informational resources which really endanger the national security, are in fact informational weapons, located mainly in Russia.

“These recent steps by the authorities are an alarming signal. Charter-97 has always taken an uncompromising stance, they’ve had their own vision of the socio-political events in Belarus, which sometimes triggered significant debates. This position certainly has the right to exist. If the Belarusian society wants to receive diverse pluralistic information, we should cherish the right to freedom of expression,” - the human rights defender says.

“I will add that the website has suffered a lot from the Belarusian authorities: its offices have been searched and equipment seized, staff beaten and imprisoned, chief editor and journalists faced criminal charges and finally ousted from the country. But despite this the website has managed to resume its work. As before, the authoritarian government views Charter-97 as a potentially dangerous resource for the current regime. When I was in the penal colony, in 2011-2014, it was pleasant that the first news I learned about something important on the outside, was told by controllers, who referred exactly to Charter’97. This demonstrates its great popularity among various layers of the Belarusian society,” – Ales Bialiatski notes.

The fight against independent media is a dangerous signal connected with the authorities' lack of confidence in the correctness of their economic and political position. Instead of responding to sound criticisms and carrying out changes to democratize the domestic situation in Belarus, to establish a dialogue with the civil society, the authorities continue to use violent methods to muzzle mouths to independent journalists and the media.

“We remember that a few years ago there were attempts to restrict the dissemination of information by Charter-97, belaruspartisan.org and some other websites, which were blacklisted by the authorities. And here again, after the lifting of the sanctions, when the relationship with the West is beginning to improve and the Belarusian authorities are beginning to feel confident at the international level, they have resumed their attacks on freedom of speech, apparently hoping that the international community's response to such unpopular actions will be insignificant," – Bialiatski reminds.

The HR activists, preparing the annual Human Rights Review, noted that in 2017, the situation with the persecution of independent journalists in Belarus deteriorated sharply. The persecution of Charter97.org is a disturbing and natural continuation of this process. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2017 there were almost 200 cases of harassment of independent journalists linked to the performance of their professional activities. Repression against independent journalists has been continued in 2018, and extended to the independent informational resources.

“The media space in Belarus is heavily trimmed, and is heavily controlled by the state. In Belarus, there is no independent television, no independent radio. And government censorship and pressure has finally reached the Internet, which is abnormal. We call on the Belarusian authorities and personally on the Information Minister to stop the persecution of independent voices. We will continue to urge both the Belarusian society and the international community to exert pressure on the Belarusian authorities. In today's world, the Belarusians have the right to receive unbiased and comprehensive information,” – Ales Bialiatski underlines.

Important to note, on January 24 the Lukashenka regime blocked the independent informational resource Charter97.org. First Deputy Minister of Information Ihar Lutski confirmed the fact of blocking.

The detailed instruction how to overcome the blocking of the website Charter97.org is available here.